For the past two weeks, we’ve reconstructed two 1911 murders in South Austin with the help of Ken Roberts’ fine new book, “The Cedar Choppers: Life on the Edge of Nothing.”
One drunken night, John Teague shot and killed John Gest, owner of a bar on West Monroe Street, shot at but missed his bartender, Max Himmelreich, then wrestled with, shot and killed sheriff’s deputy George Duncan as he tried to escape to the western mountains.
FULL STORY: Shooting heard “all over South Austin.”
The trial turned into a circus.
The state called for the death penalty; the defense pleaded that insanity ran in the family, and also hid behind an “unwritten law,” meaning “homicide is justifiable when committed by the husband upon one taken in the act of adultery with the wife,” even though neither of the women allegedly dishonored was Teague’s wife, but rather were his sisters.
As for congenital insanity, Teague’s mother testified, according to the Austin Statesman, before a full house. “The astonished courtroom attendants and hangers-on were afforded the novel spectacle of a woman, promulgating it for the consideration of all,” the incredulous report reads, “that her husband was partially insane, that her eldest son, a second son, and at least one daughter were afflicted with the mental defect, and that another daughter was an idiot.”
As Roberts’ research shows, John Teague had been in at least one previous gunfight — with his brother! — over a woman’s honor before.
“The jury in the 1911 case voted eight to four for the death penalty, and later three of the four jurors agreed to go with the majority,” Roberts relates. “But one man whose brother had been spared from death by an insanity plea held out, and John Teague was sentenced to prison for life for killing Gest, and again for killing the deputy. He was pardoned 10 years later in 1921.”
John’s sister and Gest’s widow, Mamie, married bartender Himmelreich. He died in 1937. Mamie died in 1984. She was 104 years old.